eddvick (eddvick) wrote,

"The World's Biggest Comic Book Convention"

That's how the convention at Angouleme in was advertised to us back in 1992. The convention spotlighted a different country every year, and it was American's turn. A hundred thousand eager comic book fans will snap up your comics, they said. And so it was that a dozen or so of us from the fledgling MU Press (and friends) embarked for snowy southern France. I'm not likely to remember everybody in our group, but I know we had Donna Barr, Colin Upton, artvixn, Jim Groat, Steve Gallacci, Fred Patten, Dwight Decker, Monika Livingstone, and me.

I believe the only other publishers there from America were Fantagraphics and Mirage Studios. They looked like they knew what they were doing, with French copies of their books. Phil Yeh was also there promoting Cartoonists Across America, and he was happily talking to people. Us? Color us terminally naive.

Colin's memory of the trip was immortalized in "The Fur Flies to France", published in MU's biting-the-hand-that-fed-it anthology Skunk*. Jim Groat was far, far out of his depth in France, and made mistakes in how he dealt with people, customs, and laws (more specifically, customs laws people were his bete noire--I made sure to pay import duties on the comics I brought in) that bit him quite severely. Diana, Fred, and I spoke French, at least a bit, and Dwight was a translator so his command of written French was very good, but nobody else understood the language.

My own memory is tinged with a mixture of regret and nostalgia. We had a free space in the 'rights area', where we could attempt to negotiate copyrights with other publishers. Steve spent most of his time there. I should have been happy to leave it at that, but I couldn't resist taking a (very expensive) booth. As it turned out, there were a few problems with that promise of thousands of happy customers. See, I expected the language barrier to turn many of them away. But what I hadn't expected was that we'd only sell two comic books the entire weekend! Was there a forcefield around the booth?

No. Very early on I talked to some of the booth-runners from Britain. I think they were representing Titan Books, but it could have been another publisher, or a consortium more likely. Theirs had been the "country of honor" the year before, and they had tales to tell. Remember all those customers? Well, the more proper term for half of them would be "school children"; schools all over the area bussed in students to the convention, as many as half that hundred thousand.

And guess what? Almost every booth but ours had hardbacks, full color ones, ones that were forty-eight pages or more. Our black and white comics looked like fanzines, like catalogs, like...

Like giveaways, actually. I lost count of the number of times we were asked if they were free. It numbered in the thousands. We said 'non' a lot, until Sunday rolled around and I blanched at carrying all those thousands of comics back home with me. Then I started saying 'oui'. I saw the publisher from Spain across from us do the same. At the end of the show I dumped all the comics and just carried a small box of graphic novels on to Paris, England, and back home.

The French clearly didn't know what to do with us. They placed us in a hotel that was on the outskirts of town, a long bus ride away, because they thought standard French accomodations would be too primitive for us. They fed us a 'banquet' with abominably prepared broccoli and fried chicken, when most of us were all too eager to eat their food. And then, their job 'done', they left us entirely to our own devices. The bus we were supposed to use only made a couple of trips a day.

The fun was to be had when we left the convention. Wandering an ancient fortified city. Looking at the shop windows, virtually all of which had cartoon characters displayed in them. Talking to an old woman whose aging dachschund's hind end was strapped into a tiny wagon. Finding the fanzine pavilion, where we might have sold a few copies more than we did at the main one. Eating at Lucky Luke's. Visiting the amazing Centre National de la Bande Dessinée et de l'Image. Taking the TGV...

Bart Beaty is writing a daily blog from the convention at Angouleme, taking place this weekend. It's going through some hard times. last year huge snowfalls halted the trains, and a shopping center took over the open area where the main pavilion traditionally stood. This year most of the activities are taking place far from downtown.

I expect it's a bit less provincial. I hope so, anyway.

*We were reviled for publishing a comic book that made fun of furries. Some fans even claimed we were responsible for low sales of furry titles in comic book stores! Would that a book had that kind of influence; I doubt any store owner even cracked its covers. There were angry letters & phone calls, threats, and boycotts. This was before CSI or ER devoted portions of episodes to furries--I expect 99% of its sales were to the fanbase it derided.

I perhaps let delight in good storytelling overcome my better judgement. Jim Groat forgave us more readily that many others.
Tags: conventions

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